In 2012, David Granger, the then Opposition Leader was of the view that the Broadcasting Legislation was riddled with inconsistencies.
The inconsistencies, he said, conflicted with freedom of speech and did not provide a wholesome and fair environment for the development for Guyana’s broadcasting sector.
He was most passionate about this topic, calling for an immediate reconsideration.
However, it has been eight months since Granger’s ascension to office as President and the Broadcasting Legislation remains untouched.
In fact, Granger during his address to the Parliament in June, 2015 said that the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill would be tabled to allow greater independence to the National Broadcasting Authority and to ensure standards of fairness, balance and accuracy on matters of public interest. But this is yet to be done and there is no telling when this will be addressed.
Only recently a GNBA member was unable to say what the Board’s position is regarding the changes which need to be made to the legislation.
He further advised that it is a subject that could be raised at a press conference which will be held soon by the Board.
A press statement dated September 25, 2012 from the APNU, noted that ever since the former Government tabled the Broadcasting Bill in Parliament in July 2012, the APNU objected to several aspects of the legislation.
Apart from the major reservations which were expressed by many entities, the APNU had said that note should be taken of the objectionable haste with which the Jagdeo administration passed the Bill, through all its stages in the National Assembly, without the participation of the Parliamentary Opposition Parties, in the midst of the Parliamentary Recess, just a few months before the 2011 November Elections.
It said that the legislation itself contained several provisions that clearly were intended to grant the then PPP government the power to dictate who are entitled to a license and what content they can broadcast.
The APNU, which is headed by President Granger had said that the critical problems with the Broadcasting Act No 17 of 2011 can be grouped under several headings: the formula to compose the Board of the GNBA, the powers granted to the subject Minister to instruct licensees, the role of the NFMU and the excessive conditions imposed on content, many of which it said, violate the principles of freedom of expression.
In the 2012 press release, it said that when it comes to the composition of the Board of GNBA, the 6 to 1 formula has been universally condemned. The APNU said that the formula violates the basic sense of fairness of the Guyanese people. “Significantly, it also discards, in typical style, the agreement reached in the 2001 Hoyte to Jagdeo Bi-Partisan Committee on Broadcasting and State Media Boards. The formula agreed to in that committee is that commissioners of the authority are to be, ‘selected by the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Appointments and appointed by the President’.”
The PNC further noted that the Chairperson of the GNBA is to be elected by the Board at its first meeting.
With regard to the powers granted to the subject Minister, the APNU said that the former Government had objected to two provisions in the legislation: Clauses 37 (1) and (3) which give the Minister unfettered powers to direct broadcasters by notice from the GNBA “where it appears to be necessary or expedient” to broadcast specified announcements and to “refrain from including in the programmes, any matter or class of matters specified in the notice.”
It had even said that while it understands the need for Government to issue public statements through the media in times of national emergencies, the power of the Minister to instruct broadcasters what to broadcast and what not to broadcast must be carefully and properly circumscribed.
The PNC had also ventilated its objection to provisions such as 16 (1) and (3) of the Act which place the subject Minister between the National Assembly and the GNBA. It professed that the GNBA should report directly to the National Assembly and that it should have access to funds for its operations directly from the Consolidated Funds.
As for the role of the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU), the coalition party had said that it supports stronger inclusion of provisions in the Act to prevent the NFMU from possibly abusing its role for the allocation of frequencies. It had said that NFMU must be compelled by law to allocate frequencies in a transparent and objective manner.
With regard to the violations of freedom of expression, it had said that the excessive conditions and obligations imposed on broadcasters with regards to program content actually and potentially violate their freedom of expression.
As one example, it cited Clause 32 (1) of the Act which states, “all programmes should be fair and balanced in content and show a respect for truth in ways that do not under-represent any significant strand of thought, and that accuracy is founded on a commitment to check, cross-check and double check and, wherever possible, to gather first-hand information from credible documentation, or official spokespersons of fully attributable eyewitnessed sources.”
It was this very coalition party which said that it supports responsible journalism, but stressed that to impose these ideals as a precondition, stands in violation of a person’s right to express himself freely.
It had said, “APNU fully endorses the growing call for fairness, impartiality and predictability in the execution of broadcasting legislation in Guyana. This can only be achieved by a properly revised broadcasting law and a suitably constituted and autonomous broadcasting authority.”
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